What are Patients Looking for in a Physician?

May 10, 2017

New data reveals what potential patients are looking for when they are searching for a doctor. It comes down to insurance, convenience and more.

Though the Affordable Care Act continues to be incredibly divisive, most people can agree that more Americans now have access to care than ever before. Along with that access comes the freedom for healthcare consumers to choose which doctor they want to see.

But what are patients actually looking for when they decide which doctor to make their primary-care physician? A recent survey of healthcare consumers by Weatherby Healthcare set out to answer that question.  According to the research, here are a few things consumers said were important when choosing a new physician.

Insurance matters - When it's time to choose a doctor, consumers start with in-network providers. Forty-two percent of survey respondents said they chose their last doctor because he was on their insurance plan. A recommendation from a friend or family member and "they were the most convenient option" tied for the second spot. Only 12 percent of patients said they chose their doctor because of positive online reviews.

Patients want to feel comfortable - Though insurance is what brings most patients in the door, trust is what keeps them coming back. Respondents said they remain with their current physician because they feel comfortable discussing their medical issues with them, they understand their medical history, and they listen to their concerns.

Patients want to stick with their doctor - Building trust pays off. Though consumer loyalty continues to decline in most areas of our economy, healthcare consumers are still incredibly loyal to their primary-care physician. Forty-four percent of respondents said they've been visiting the same doctor for five years or more and 5 percent have had the same doctor their whole life.

Convenience is key - One of the reasons patients may be willing to change doctors is location. Seventy percent of respondents said they chose their current physician because the physician's facility was nearby or easy to get to.

Skills are more important than demographics - When choosing a new doctor, patients said the three most important characteristics of a physician were a clean work history (e.g., looking at malpractice, sanctions, board action), educational background, and years of experience. Less than 10 percent of respondents said racial/ethnic background or religious affiliation were key factors in choosing a physician. Similarly, gender was not much of a factor. Fifty-eight percent of consumers had no preference in the gender of their physician, though women were more likely than men to strongly prefer a physician of their own gender (23 vs. 16 percent).

Patients expect their physicians to be the expert - Though more than 80 percent of survey respondents said they were familiar with their current medications and health conditions, only 57 percent said they were familiar with their insurance coverage and just half said they were familiar with their family medical history. Nearly 80 percent of patients report researching symptoms or illnesses online, but only 29 percent have ever sought a second opinion after receiving a diagnosis from their physician.

Patient care about more than just their physician - Patients' perception of their doctor is influenced by many aspects of their visit to the office. Though the doctor's competence plays the greatest role, patients said nursing staff competence, the cleanliness and comfort of the facility, the physician's empathy, and ease in scheduling an appointment are of nearly equal importance to the overall experience.

If the list of things consumers want from their doctor seems long and a bit overwhelming - in-network coverage, a convenient location, competence, empathy, a good nursing staff, a modern office - it's because it is.

The good news is that most doctors are meeting, or exceeding, those expectations. Seventy-five percent of survey respondents said they are satisfied with their physician. And that satisfaction increases with age. Eighty-two percent of patients ages 55 and older are satisfied with their doctor. Those high satisfaction ratings are something to be proud of. Keep up the good work!